PreSonus Blog

Friday Tip: Colorization: It’s Not Just About Eye Candy

Some people think colorization is frivolous—but I don’t. I started using colorization when writing articles, because it was easy to identify elements in the illustrations (e.g., “the white audio is the unprocessed sound, the blue audio is compressed”). But the more I used colorization, the more I realized how useful it could be.

Customizing the “Dark” and “Light” Looks

Although a program’s look is usually personal preference, sometimes it’s utilitarian. When working in a video suite, the ambient lighting is often low, so that the eye’s persistence of vision doesn’t influence how you perceive the video. For this situation, a dark view is preferable. Conversely, those with weak or failing vision need a bright look. If you’re new to Studio One, you might want the labels to really “pop” but later on, as you become more familiar with the program, darken them somewhat. You may want a brighter look when working during daytime, and a more muted look at night. Fortunately, you can save presets for various looks, and call up the right look for the right conditions (although note that there are no keyboard shortcuts for choosing color presets).

Figure 1: From left to right: dark, moderate, and bright luminance settings.

You’ll find these edits under Options > General > Appearance. For a dark look, move the Background Luminance slider to the left and for a light look, to the right (Fig. 1). I like -50% for dark, and +1 for light. For the dark look, setting the Background Contrast at -100% means that the lettering won’t jump out at you. For the brightest possible look, bump the Background Contrast to 100% so that the lettering is clearly visible against the other light colors, and set Saturation to 100% to brighten the colors. Conversely, to tone down the light look, set Background Contrast and Saturation to 0%.

Hue Shift customizes the background of menu bars, empty fields that are normally gray, and the like. The higher the Saturation slider, the more pronounced the colorization.

The Arrangement sliders control the Arrangement and Edit view backgrounds (i.e., what’s behind the Events). I like to see the vertical lines in the Arrangement view, but also keep the background dark. So Arrangement Contrast is at 100%, and Luminance is the darkest possible value (around 10%) that still makes it easy to see horizontal lines in the Edit view (Fig. 2).

Figure 2: The view on the left uses 13% luminance and 100% contrast to make the horizontal background lines more pronounced.

Streamlining Workflow with Color

With a song containing dozens of tracks, it can be difficult to identify which Console channel strip controls which instrument, particularly with the Narrow console view. The text at the bottom of each channel strip helps, but you often need to rename tracks to fit in the allotted space. Even then, the way the brain works, it’s easier to identify based on color (as deciphered by your right brain) than text (as deciphered by your left brain). Without getting too much into how the brain’s hemispheres work, the right brain is associated more with creative tasks like making music, so you want to stay in that mode as much as possible; switching between the two hemispheres can interrupt the creative flow.

I’ve developed standard color schemes for various types of projects. Of course, choose whatever colors work for you; for example, if you’re doing orchestral work, you’d have a different roster of instruments and colors. With my scheme for rock/pop, lead instruments use a brighter version of a color (e.g., lead guitar bright blue, rhythm guitar dark blue).

  • Main drums – red
  • Percussion – yellow
  • Bass – brown
  • Guitar – blue
  • Voice – green
  • Keyboards and orchestral – purple
  • FX – lime green

Furthermore, similar instruments are grouped together in the mixer. So for vocals, you’ll see a block of green strips, for guitar a block of blue strips, etc. (Fig. 3)

Figure 3: A colorized console, with a bright look. The colorization makes it easy to see which faders control which instruments.

 

To colorize channel strips, choose Options > Advanced tab > Console tab (or click the Console’s wrench icon) and check “Colorize Channel Strips.” This colorizes the entire strip. However, if you find colorized strips too distracting, the name labels at the bottom (and the waveforms in the arrange view) are always colored according to your choices. Still, when the Console faders are extended to a higher-than-usual height, I find it easier to grab the correct fader with colored console strips.

In the Arrange view, you can colorize the track controls as well—click on the wrench icon, and click on “Colorize Track Controls.” Although sometimes this feels like too much color, nonetheless, it makes identifying tracks easier (especially with the track height set to a narrow height, like Overview).

Color isn’t really a trivial subject, once you get into it. It has helped my workflow, so I hope these tips serve you as well.

 

Extra TIP: Buy Craig Anderton’s Studio One eBook here for only $10 USD! 

 

  • lau laursen (Lau Laursen Musik

    I totally agree. No idea why Presonus doesn’t just give us a simple and logical spectrally organised colour picker, similar to other fine DAWs? I have already suggested this long ago on their web site.

  • Simon Brown

    I agree with all of your points, and would like to add that the way colours are organised in the colour picker right now is atrocious. I cannot fathom what the ordering is supposed to be, and trying to group things together using a lighter or darker shade of the same colour is an exercise in frustration. Compare and contrast with the picker in Pro Tools or Logic Pro.

  • Anderton

    There are global hue controls and luminance, but I don’t know if that’s sufficient for someone color blind. I do believe it’s more prevalent than people think. I was doing a manual once for a product that relied on color in the UI. When I said “what do we do about people who are color blind?” there was stunned silence…no one had even considered it.

  • Anderton

    Excellent points – yes, it is indeed subjective! For me it’s a combination of “color mnemonics” (guitar = blue = blues guitar) while percussion is yellow because, well, cymbals are gold 🙂 I chose brown for bass because it’s the stereotypical P-Bass color, as well as something that “grounds” the song. Green is associated with social interaction, and I figure that’s what vocals are all about. I’m sure 100 different people would come up with 100 different color combinations…which is as it should be 🙂

  • Nick Clube

    Colour coding is definitely important so it’s nice to see an article on the virtues of the subject. Although the features for using colour have improved over time, Presonus still don’t offer us the ability to make and save our own colours.It’s such a quick win. In every upgrade 1–> 2, 2–>3, 3–>4 the changes in colour hues etc has been really annoying IMHO. The ability to make a personal custom palette would be greatly appreciated by me for one, and I know, for others, the main benefits being:
    1. Colour Consistency in Song files from one major version to the next
    2. Ability to tweak the colours to a density and hue that suit you as an individual – some of us are partially colour blind. In v4 I cannot get a distinctive chocolate brown (my drum colour) without upsetting everything else.
    3. Ability to share and transfer custom colour palettes.

  • Joel Isaac Pizarro

    Colors is something that goes more with how we perceive sounds. A yellow color can represent easily something high..or bright …like strings. A dark color can represent something like a bass track…drums. A nice color like blue or pink can be a synth or a piano sound. Colors goes attach with our perception of frequencies…and thats something that differs from person to person. CLA uses green on his drums…for me a green color goes more on a Organ B3 …for me drums should be a dark grey since they are part of the back bone of the song….a background foundation . Lead vocals are red for a lot of people…red for me is elec guitars since the color is more attached to the driven sound…fire…hot. It just goes with how we perceive and associate that sound with a real life past experiences.

  • SomebodyPickaName

    I’m in the “colors are important” camp myself. The only thing left for Presonus to do is to get rid of the black waveforms in exchange for colors that match the tracks, like Pro Tools or Cubase does. The current waveforms are not attractive, in my opinion.